Michelle - I know you wrote this a while ago, but I just came across it and feel compelled to respond.
While you wouldn’t mind being asked “What’s wrong,” it can actually be very annoying — and, yes offensive — to us. (I’m in a wheelchair.) Let me say right off, though, that I do NOT speak for all disabled people; this is only my experience. For one, imagine being asked that on a constant basis once you leave the safety of your home. Everywhere you go, people want a recount of your medical history…as if it’s actually their business. Naturally, the only people who NEED (or have a right) to know ANYONE’s medical history are 1) the person afflicted, and 2) their physician. That’s it. So, when trying to go out and spend a pleasant afternoon shopping at the mall, suddenly you get bothered by any number of nosy strangers who (for absolutely no discernible reason) want to know why you’re in a wheelchair. I’ve been annoyed by such people so many times in one shopping trip that I actually lost count. We’re talking double digits here. And it’s a total nuisance! I didn’t do anything to make it seem like I want to be bothered, I didn’t do anything to encourage these complete strangers to come and hound me for grisly details about my medical history. I just went shopping. I have absolutely NO idea why people think it’s their right to prise into a total stranger’s personal life with no provocation whatsoever! And, here’s another thing…most people are in wheelchairs due to something unpleasant. Usually an injury or illness. Do you really think we want to talk about and rehash the details of what is (most likely) the least pleasant moment of our lives? Do I *really* want to spend my day at the mall explaining to people I will never, ever see again about my many painful surgeries throughout my life? About the pain of growing up with autoimmune diseases and congenital deformities in my lower extremities? Or about the time I broke my neck and had to have it completely reconstructed?!? While trying to buy a cute new skirt??? NO. No I do not. In fact, I *hate* talking about it at this point…yet people are relentless. Then, on days I simply canNOT take it anymore and tell them I’d rather not discuss it, they get all offended and hostile. I don’t need that. Here’s one more thing to consider: at the most basic and obvious level, the answer is, “Absolutely NOTHING.” There is nothing “wrong” with me…and by asking that question, you’re insinuating there is something “wrong” with disabled people. There’s nothing wrong with being disabled…but there’s a lot wrong with infringing on the privacy, time, and enjoyment of others simply to feed morbid curiosity. I know you probably never, ever thought of it that way, and that’s okay, but I hope that now you WILL think of it that way, and maybe refrain from doing it ever again. (It would be greatly appreciated!) Thanks!